Everyone has to cope with stress at times. When stress becomes overwhelming, however, it can cause people to lose emotional and physical control. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate against the tension they experience either after a traumatic event or when dealing with the stressors of life. Understanding the link between stress and addiction can be a first step to learning how to cope with everyday stress without turning to addictive substances for relief.
The Effect of Chronic Stress on the Brain
When you’re under chronic stress, part of your brain’s prefrontal cortex shuts down. As a result, your ability to make reflective choices is diminished, making you more likely to indulge in impulsive behavior, including drinking, using drugs, smoking and overeating.
Stress also affects your brain’s ability to produce dopamine, serotonin and melatonin. When you don’t have adequate amounts of these chemicals circulating through your brain and body, you experience mood swings, you don’t sleep well and you just don’t feel happy or positive — and these states in turn exacerbate your stress level.
It’s not surprising, then, that stress can drive someone to develop an addiction. When you’re feeling down as a result of stress, use of an addictive substance can create a sense of relief, a buzz or a high, making you feel better temporarily. That attempt to feel better, though, can quickly become a physical addiction that’s very difficult to break.
Types of Stress That Increase Addiction Risk
Researchers have found connections between certain types of stress and the risk of addiction. People who have experienced the following types of stressors have an increased risk of addiction:
- An unhappy marriage or primary relationship
- History of physical abuse by a family member
- Abandonment or a history of isolation
- Emotional neglect or abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Loss of a child
- Unfaithfulness on the part of a spouse or significant other
- Death of a loved one
- Observing others undergoing violent victimization
- Family dysfunction
- Chronic dissatisfaction at work
- Loss of one’s home to a natural disaster
- Harassment, sexual or otherwise
- Being a victim of a shooting or other violent act
When these negative events occur during childhood, the person at risk tends to develop decreased self-control and emotional control. This often leads to addictive behaviors.
Addiction Recovery and Stress
Dealing with stress can be particularly difficult during addiction recovery. If you’ve developed a pattern of coping with stress by drinking or getting high, you have to break both the physical addiction and the bad habits. Detox adds physical stress to your brain and body, so everyday stressors can seem extra hard to deal with.
Learning to be gentle with yourself during addiction recovery is a big step towards learning to handle stress in a healthy way. But it’s extraordinarily difficult to do this on your own. Seeking help can make it possible to recover from addiction and to learn to live in your everyday world without drugs or alcohol. At Hickory Treatment Centers, we understand what you’re going through. Contact us to break the cycle of addiction and to learn how to build the healthy coping skills you need for your physical and emotional well-being.